by: Sunhawk

Tides of Change (cont)

Trowa chuckled and reached to wrap a hand around the base of Duo's braid, giving him a little shake. "Don't be ridiculous," he scolded. "Quatre isn't mad at you... never was. He was worried as hell. Eat your breakfast and come upstairs to see him, ok?"

Duo just nodded and Trowa turned away to gather Quatre's breakfast tray. Duo watched him go, then came to take the seat next to me. Very close next to me. Close enough that our knees touched. He gave me an apologetic little look, as if to tell me he couldn't help it. I reached under the table and took his hand, squeezing it firmly, doing my best to offer him some support.

Duo's relationship with Trowa is... odd. They, at times, seem to be very much kindred spirits. They share a certain similarity of backgrounds that gives them a common language sometimes, which the rest of us didn't share. Duo had earned a great deal of respect from Trowa during the period of time that they had stayed together when Duo had been... while Duo's eyes healed. I could still hear the near awe in his voice when he had told us later about their narrow escape and the things that Duo had managed to do, without his sight. He had shaken his head and told us that "the son of a bitch is made of nothing but grit and nerve". He had gotten shaky just telling the story. I had gotten rather shaky just listening to it.

I realized that Duo wasn't eating, and sighed. I put eggs and sausage on his plate and growled teasingly at him, "You're not going to make me cut it up for you, are you?"

He jerked guiltily and bent to eating with a mumbled apology. I sighed again and watched him, almost mechanically, take a bite. I felt eyes on me and glanced up to find Wufei looking our way with an odd little frown.

Duo ate what I put in front of him, so lost in thought that I think I could have filled his plate with dirt and he wouldn't have hesitated to eat it. Experimentally, I put a second spoonful of eggs on his plate and he never noticed. I managed, in that manner, to get a second helping of everything down him before he suddenly seemed to come back to himself.

When we were finished, Wufei caught my eye, and with an inclination of his head made it clear that I was to take Duo away, he would deal with cleaning up by himself. I gave him a grateful nod and steered Duo out of the room. It was very telling that Duo didn't even notice that we were abandoning Wufei with the breakfast dishes.

He seemed... loath to be very far from me. We normally aren't very demonstrative around the others, but I found his hands seeking to touch me almost without thought, as though he needed some reassurance that I was real. But then he would suddenly seem to come to himself and realize that someone might be around, and his fingers would jerk away. Only to come fluttering back when he forgot again. I finally just took his hand in mine and held it. He gave me a strange little look that was a bastard mix of gratitude and guilt, need and chagrin.

I led him outside, where we were less likely to run into anybody.

"Where are we going?" he asked, voice hesitant.

"Just for a walk," I reassured and we fell into step, leaving the porch and heading by mutual consent toward the less tended part of the property... and a little privacy.

"Going to lead me off into the woods and have your wicked way with me?" he teased, but I recognized it for the forced effort it was.

"I thought I had my wicked way with you this morning?" I rejoined gently, my tone light, the pressure of my hand on his telling him I understood that he really wasn't in the mood for joking.

We crested a small hill, leaving the carefully manicured lawn behind and venturing into what was probably just a small stand of trees, but to the two of us, colony born as we were, it seemed like a forest. I gave his hand a tug and pulled him in close to my side, letting go to wrap an arm around his shoulders. He smiled warmly and slipped his own arm around my waist. I couldn't help returning the smile. I knew that there was no one currently at the estate who would think twice if they noticed us, but it still made me uncomfortable when I thought someone might see us like this. I was glad for the moment of privacy that let me give this to him without reservation.

We just walked for a bit, in a comfortable silence and I watched him looking at things.

Since that... accident... with his sight, I've noticed the way he really looks at things. Like he's seeing them for the very first time. He makes me see the world differently myself. Makes me stop and give things a second glance. He points out things I never would have noticed if he hadn't shown me. He found a little toad on the path we were walking and we stopped to watch it as it hopped across the ground, seeming to look up at us in trepidation. Further along the path, he found this strange insect that looked like nothing but a stick. We stood for several long moments watching it in awe. I never would have noticed it. We walked on and Duo found a spray of ferns growing in the shade of a tree. The delicate leaves reminded both of us of the lacy tablecloths from a special safe house long ago.

"I want..." he blurted, then stopped, blushing slightly and made to move on. But I wouldn't let him.

"What do you want?" I coaxed, feeling suddenly very tender. Very...needy.

"It's stupid," he muttered, dropping his gaze to the ground.

"Tell me," I wheedled gently, turning to draw him into my arms.

"I want... things like that... where I live. Those little things," he was blushing furiously now, but went doggedly on. "Those things that make a house someplace that looks lived in."

"Then," I told him very carefully, "we shall have afghans and plants and... I don't know what all else... in our home."

There was a strange little silence... a very tense, very strange little silence.

"Do you... mean that?" he whispered softly and I could see something in his eyes that was just aching.

"You didn't think you were getting rid of me, did you?" I teased softly and watched that raw emotion rise up and threaten to spill over again. He couldn't seem to speak and I gave him a little squeeze. "When I said heart and soul... I meant for the rest of our lives, not just till the end of the war."

Arms were suddenly around my neck so tight that my air went out in a grunt. "Tell me you mean it... please, oh Gods, tell me you mean it..." He was babbling, begging me with desperate words to answer something inside him that suddenly seemed... almost too much for me to handle.

"I mean it," I told him fiercely and held him as tight as I could manage, somehow never as tight as he seemed to need. "I mean it... I've never meant anything but the rest of our lives. You're mine, forever and always... and I'm yours, as long as you want me."

"You'll never leave me?" he whispered, voice taut as a bowstring.

"Never," I said solemnly, telling him what he wanted to hear. We both knew it was a promise that was out of my control, but I knew the reassurances he needed... and, 'I'll try not to' was not what he had to hear right then.

"Promise it," he said, his voice almost a whimper as he struggled not to say it. Struggled for control of this fear that seemed to be eating him alive.

"I swear," I told him fiercely. "We'll be together forever."

He pushed back from me, regarding me with feverish eyes, suddenly seeming very... intense, and said, "make love to me."

I'm afraid I blinked at him in shock. This was very unlike Duo and I wasn't sure just what he was asking. "What?" I blurted intelligently. "Now?"

"Right here... right now," he told me huskily and was suddenly drawing me down to the ground. I didn't know what to do but let him. I didn't know what to think. He was kissing me hungrily, his body straining up to meet mine as he pulled me to him. I thought I would... spontaneously combust. I did my best to respond to him, I would never reject him... would never let his needs go unanswered. But. Oh dear Gods... there was a huge 'but'. I thought I would die of humiliation thinking about someone coming along and finding us like this. I met his kisses and sent my hands roaming over him, but couldn't keep my eyes from flicking around, couldn't keep my ears from listening for the slightest sound. I tried... I really did.

I felt his hands still and I drew back to look down at him, hating myself for not being able to put aside my discomfort for him. Expecting to find hurt in his eyes... expecting to find reproach. What greeted me was a wide grin.

"I love you," he told me warmly.

"I'm sorry," I breathed; so unsure of his mood... so unsure of what was happening. "Give me a minute to... to..." I wasn't at all sure what I could manage, given a minute or given an hour. I honestly just didn't think I could manage much of anything out here in broad daylight. He began to laugh. One of his beautiful, infectious laughs. They start with a little snicker that blossoms into something that borders on a giggle, but isn't. It spirals up until he is laughing from somewhere deep inside, it takes over his whole body until his eyes are crinkled up and his toes are practically curled. It's a wondrous thing to watch. Its usually enough to make me laugh with him, just from watching him... even if I don't know what the joke is. But I was so confused and off balance, that all I could do was stare down at him. I'm sure my _expression must have been... interesting, because every time he started to get himself under control, he caught another look at me and started laughing all over again. Had I not been so relieved to hear the sound, I might have gotten irritated enough to bury him in the leaves.

When he finally settled down, he smiled up at me, tears of mirth making his eyes bright. "Thank you," he told me simply, reaching to touch my cheek.

"For what?" I had to ask, feeling oddly uncomfortable, like I'd let him down.

"For being willing to try," he said tenderly and there was something shining in his eyes that had been missing before now. Some spark... some light.

I caught his hand and kissed his fingertips, pressing my lips to his palm. "You scared me, love," I told him before I quite knew I was going to say it. Feeling like I was talking to my Duo for the first time in days.

He looked vaguely melancholy. "I know, Heero. And I'm sorry."

"Can you... can you tell me what's going on?" I dared, hoping I wouldn't drive him back to that strange place he'd been all day, but wanting to make this... distance that had been between us, go away.

"Don't you," he began, looking hesitant, looking confused again. "Don't you guys feel it? It's... over. It's really fucking over! Heero, I can't get my head around it. I don't know... I never thought..." Never thought we'd live through it.

I brought my fingers to his lips to stop that line of thought, because I couldn't bear to hear him say it out loud. I quirked him a little grin. "I've been a little busy thinking about... other things," I told him.

His cheeks flushed and he sat up to lean into me, as much to avoid my eyes, I think, as anything. He sighed softly. "I know... I'm so..."

"Stop apologizing," I murmured into his hair. "You have nothing to apologize for."

I felt him stiffen against my shoulder, but he didn't raise his head. Sometimes it was easier for us to talk if we didn't look. "Why aren't you ripping my head off?" he suddenly asked.

I resisted the urge to chuckle at him, because I could feel the tension in him as he asked the question. He deserved a straight answer. "If you'd come back yesterday... I might have. But the more time went by, the more I understood how much I needed you. I was... too scared to be angry anymore."

He was quiet for a long moment and then he said, "I don't know how to... how to explain..."

"It's all right," I whispered, enfolding his fingers in mine where they rested on the ground. "You don't owe me any kind of explanation if you don't want to give it. All that matters is that you came back. That's what's important to me... that you came back and that you're staying."

He did raise his head to look at me then, his _expression oddly... troubled still. "Gods Heero... I feel so lost." There was a hint of surprise in his eyes that told me he might not have meant to say that out loud.

"I'm here," I murmured. "We'll be lost together."

I had meant it teasingly, but it hadn't come out that way and he looked at me gravely. "What are we going to do... what the hell are we going to do now?"

"I don't know," I had to be honest with him. "We'll love each other and the rest will just have to work itself out."

I managed to get a little snort of a laugh from him and he looked at me through the fall of his bangs. "You are such a hopeless romantic."

"Only when I'm with you," I assured him and kissed his knuckles.

He snorted softly again, but couldn't hide the fact that his smile was faintly pleased.

I couldn't stop my fingers from ghosting over his face, tracing that smile. "I swore I'd spend my life making you happy... keeping you safe, if I could just..." I hesitated on the truth and temporized it a little, "if we just came through together." I think he might have understood when that vow had been made, despite my efforts, because something haunted veiled his eyes.

"Heero," he whispered softly, not quite able to decide whether to look at me or not. "I... I'm scared."

The admission took me by surprise; it was a thing that he never lightly admits to. My Duo is not easily frightened or intimidated. Not on the surface. If something causes him fear, you will usually only know it by the way he attacks it with both hands. He's always been that way... has to poke the big scary bear just to see if it really does have teeth.

"Of what, love?" I prodded gently.

"Life?" he murmured, dropping his head and staring at the ground. "Peace? Heero... I don't have any memories that don't have the war as a background... what in the hell do I know about... living?"

I reached to pluck a dried leaf from his hair, only to discover that he was covered with them from lying on the ground. Looking at him, sitting there wearing my sweater, with the leaves in his hair and that oddly vulnerable look on his face... my heart threatened to stop in my chest. I had to resist the urge to smile at him. If he had asked me again to make love with him right there on the ground... I think I could have done it.

"We'll figure it out," I soothed and kept pulling the leaves from his braid.

He looked... almost irritated. "Damn it, Heero!" he blurted, eyes full of a strange hurt. "I'm serious... what the hell are we gonna do?"

I stilled my fingers and met his anxious gaze. "For starters... we're going to be able to go to bed together every night. I'm not going to have to sleep apart from you ever again." His wide-eyed gaze searched my face hungrily. I wondered if he had let himself think of any of the good things. "We're going to find jobs of some sort... we're Gundam pilots with enough training for a platoon... I think we can manage to find something we can do. Then we're going to find someplace to live. Just the two of us... so that when we make love I don't have to even think about being quiet or making you be quiet. No more stolen moments... no more worrying... no more fears." Something was waking behind the fear in his eyes and I pressed forward. "We're going to argue about what color the couch should be and whether we want curtains or blinds. We're going to buy ourselves the biggest damn bed we can find because I'm sick of sleeping together in those little single beds that we always end up with. We're going to..."

He shut me up with a kiss. A deep, hungry, trembling, fearful... wonderful kiss.

"I love you," he murmured after a while.

"With all my heart and soul," I rejoined.

"I'm... pretty screwed up... are you sure...?" he murmured, his tone trying to be teasing and not succeeding.

I snorted softly and nuzzled his hair. "There is not a single doubt in my mind. Never has been. Never will be."

He let his head rest on my shoulder, finally relaxing a little and his tone managed to achieve a little more lightness. "I like to eat crackers in bed," he informed me, just as though it would make some difference.

"I can live with that if you can deal with the fact that I like to get up before dawn to run," I grinned, continuing to brush the leaves from his clothes and hair.

"My cooking sucks," he murmured.

"I'm well aware of that," I informed him, delighted that he seemed to be coming back. Seemed to be settling and calming. "I plan on doing all the cooking."

"But you hate to cook," he pointed out.

"I hate food poisoning worse," I chuckled and kissed the top of his head.

He snorted. "Hardly seems fair... for you to do all the cooking."

"You can do the laundry," I bargained. "I hate laundry too."

He raised his head to look at me and there wasn't a mask in sight. His _expression, as open as a book, speaking to me of trepidation and uncertainty.

"We're going to be fine," I told him and he graced me with a soft smile.

"I can believe you when you talk like that," he whispered.

"Believe in us," I said firmly. "As long as we're together, there isn't anything that can get in our way."

His smile turned into a rueful grin. "I don't remember falling in love with a poet... where the hell did you come from, and what happened to my Heero of the one grunt vocabulary?"

I gave him a narrow-eyed look and brought his hand up to kiss the knuckles. "Tis your own glowing beauty that has awakened the poet's soul in the soldier's body," I intoned solemnly and I thought he would rupture something laughing at me. I was able to laugh with him this time and something else seemed to fall away from between us.

"We should probably head back," I prodded gently after he'd settled, and I was rather taken by surprise when he jerked and gasped.

"Oh shit!" he blurted guiltily. "Quatre!"

I made him wait for the minute it took to get the rest of the leaves and twigs off us, then we all but ran back to the house. The fact that this had slipped his mind spoke volumes to me about his mental state... but I wasn't sure just what it said. The welfare of his friends has always taken top priority with Duo. I'd seen him ignore his own wounds while he tended to one of our teammates. Had seen him throw himself into the path of danger in an effort to protect those he loved. It was like his thoughts were so... turned inward, that the rest of the world could have vanished and he might not have noticed.

I thought about finding something to do while he went up to Quatre's room, but I just didn't want to. I honestly didn't want to be separated from him, and I had the vague feeling that he more than welcomed the support that my presence would bring.

Once in the house, he took the steps two at a time to the second floor, but then hesitated in the hall. I reached and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. The smile he gave me in return was a little wan.

"He was never mad at you," I whispered just before we got to the open door to Quatre's room, then on a sudden thought. "Trowa lied to him on the Peacemillion... told him you were sedated because you exhausted yourself. I don't know that he knows you... you..."

"Ran away from home?" he asked with one of those lop-sided, self-deprecating grins.

I gave his hand aother squeeze and prodded him gently toward the door.

Quatre was sitting up, propped with pillows and looking much better than the last time I'd seen him, his eyes were clearer, telling me there were fewer drugs in his system. Trowa sat in a chair pulled up to the side of the bed, his long legs stretched out and resting on the mattress near Quatre's feet. They had been talking, but quieted when we appeared in the doorway. Quatre's _expression went from vaguely troubled to one of his rising-sun smiles in the space of a heartbeat.

"Duo!" he exclaimed. "There you are!"

Duo moved further into the room, his eyes on the floor, his fingers twisting together and for a moment I thought he might turn and run. "Hey, Quatre," he mumbled, daring a glance up. "How are you feeling?"

"Much better," Quatre reassured and the troubled look came back to his face. He turned and gave Trowa a glance laden with meaning, and I understood that he was asking for a moment alone with Duo. Trowa frowned, but I knew he'd never deny Quatre anything he asked of him.

I leaned closer to Duo, until our shoulders brushed and I had his attention. He looked up at me and saw where my gaze rested, turning his own eyes that way and reading the same meanings I had seen there. I quirked a questioning eyebrow and it took him a moment to decide. He gnawed his lip for a second before finally giving me a tight little nod. So when Trowa rose to leave the room, I went with him without being prompted. I really didn't want to, but felt it was important for Duo to heal this last rift that really only existed in his own mind. I knew Quatre well enough to know that he wouldn't hold a grudge against Duo no matter what Duo had said to him.

Trowa and I wandered out into the hall and stood awkwardly for a moment. I wasn't sure about him, but I wasn't in a mood to go far, but I felt rather stupid hanging around the doorway like we were eavesdropping. Finally, we mutually settled on going to sit on the steps.

"Trowa," I ventured, after we were settled, "just what in the hell did Duo do that has him this... flustered?"

Trowa raised an eyebrow and couldn't seem to stop one corner of his mouth from turning up. "He has a rather extensive... vocabulary, and he utilized almost all of it. He may have shown physical restraint, but there wasn't anything stopping his mouth."

I gave him a look that I hoped showed him I was a little tired of his oh-so-careful wording. He sighed.

"Look, Heero," he finally blurted. "He thought you were in the process of committing suicide. He fully intended to go with you. When we stopped him, he fought us for all he was worth... without hurting anybody. But... he cursed us every which way he knew how." He tilted his head and for a second, met my gaze head on. "He damned us to hell, damned our loved ones to hell, threatened our progeny for ten generations. Questioned our heritage, our humanity, and our sexual preferences. The mildest thing I can remember he said had something to do with sheep. Is that enough of a picture for you to understand?"

I flushed and looked away. "All right. All right," I conceded. "He's just acting so... strange. I've never seen him like this and I'm just trying to understand."

"What's to understand?" Trowa said, his voice sounding partly amused and partly irritated. "He almost lost the most important thing in the world to him. Isn't he entitled to 'act a little strange'?"

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